Important seminar on cross-border excise fraud held in The Hague
On 14 and 15 November 2013, the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union hosted a joint seminar with Eurojust entitled Cross-border excise fraud: emerging threats in the European Union to address the growing threat posed by this type of crime to Member States.
Following opening remarks by the National Member for Spain, Mr Francisco Jiménez-Villarejo, and Ms Susanne Knöfel, member of the Cabinet of the EU Commissioner for Taxation, Customs, Statistics, Audit and Anti-Fraud, Ms Laima Čekelienė, National Member for Lithuania at Eurojust, presented remarks on behalf of Mr Darius Valys, the Prosecutor General of Lithuania, who was unfortunately unable to attend.
The first session discussed the current challenges in investigating and prosecuting excise fraud cases. Examples were presented on the increasing abuse of the Excise Movement & Control System and case examples were presented by four Member States. The selected cases focused on tobacco smuggling and excise issues associated with lubricating and diesel oils.
Day two consisted of four workshops and addressed a number of important issues, including best practice in investigating and prosecuting cross-border excise fraud cases; enhancing control mechanisms at national and EU level to prevent and combat fraud; how to better exploit the support of Eurojust and OLAF in combating excise fraud; and how to locate, seize and recover the proceeds of crime more effectively.
Also presented at the seminar was an analysis of responses to a questionnaire that was sent to the competent national authorities of each Member State. The level of response was regarded as highly positive and a clear sign of the significance of the issue to EU governments.
During his opening remarks, Mr Jiménez-Villarejo stated that: “Excise fraud is a high-impact, low-risk crime, with big gains possible for criminals who are able in a single instance to defraud Member States of billions of euro. In June, the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg included the fight against organised crime as a priority crime type for the 2014 to 2017 policy cycle; this is a very timely seminar as it stresses the importance of coordination and cooperation in fighting organised excise fraud, and in this Eurojust excels. With this seminar we intend to better prevent this phenomenon.”
Ms Čekelienė commented: “The key objectives of the Lithuanian Presidency are the promotion of economic growth and competitiveness. Cross-border excise fraud poses a direct threat to the achievement of these objectives and results in massive revenue loss to Member States from excise duties on goods such as alcohol, tobacco and energy products.”
Speaking on behalf of Mr Valys, Ms Čekelienė addressed some of the issues to be discussed during the seminar: “Which measures should be taken to effectively prevent cross-border excise fraud. Is it possible to fundamentally change the existing situation? Are we able to see several steps in advance? How will our cooperation and exchange of experience look in the future?” Ms Čekelienė completed Mr Valys’s remarks by stating that “this seminar is the ideal platform to find at least part of the answers to these complex questions.”
In her closing remarks, the President of Eurojust, Ms Michèle Coninsx, commented: “We are all aware that the dismantling of organised crime groups is a priority for the next four years. We can also see that excise fraud undermines the fiscal, public health and environmental objectives of Member States, distorts competition and puts jobs at risk. But we mustn’t forget that it also finances serious crime, including terrorism. The investigation and prosecution of excise fraud is a challenging and complex issue that requires the attention of all of you here; the loss of revenue to Member States from tobacco, alcohol and fuel fraud is of such magnitude that it simply cannot be ignored. This is exactly where national authorities can benefit from Eurojust’s expertise in organising coordination meetings and joint investigation teams. We can dream and believe that tomorrow will bring a more harmonised legislative approach; this will not happen, but we can at least attempt to minimise the differences by way of effective and practical cooperation on the ground. Eurojust and the Lithuanian Presidency are particularly keen to promote the best practices identified during this important seminar.”